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Pull Up A Sandbag
Sandbag Reminiscences of Alan Crompton Sandbag
Memories Of A Poor Lost Soul (all together now - AAAAH)
With the benefit of 41 years of hindsight, the only military organisation I should have joined was The Salvation Army. I could have risen to the dizzy heights of 2nd tambourine or become a War Cry paratrooper. I was only in the AAJLR for 15 months yet some memories are as sharp as this morning's razor nick while others have drifted into obscurity, where they belong. I can now laugh at some of the things that befell me, that at the time they were far from funny. I was hardly ever out of trouble, most of it I brought on my own head but I still believe there was a 'school yard snitch' mentality amongst certain of the Junior ranks, that was positively encouraged by those in authority.
I arrived at Tonfanau in September 1961, 2 weeks before my 17th Birthday. If I'd waited for a few months I could have joined the ranks and missed the AAJLR altogether. Ah well, "C'est la vie". 'R' Company was what they would now call an 'extreme culture shock'. The Platoon Officer was a Lt. Ross, from the Eniskellen Dragoons rumoured to be heir to the fish finger empire that bore his name. The Drill Sergeants were a Glaswegian from the Royal Signals called Tom Gracie who at least had a sense of humour and an Irishman called Findlay, who was as funny as a hanging.
After clamping on nearly half a stone I was sent from 'R' Company to 'C' Company, Alemein Platoon. The Platoon Commander was a Lt. Pearce; his Sergeant was 'Dixie' Dean from the Royal Signals. Mr. Pearce must have had the patience of a saint to put up with me but even so I still ended up doing probably more RP's than the rest of Alamein Platoon put together. The names I remember are Barry Fielding (last seen conducting a Manchester Corporation bus before joining the police), John Wilson, Johnny Cliffe, Terry Garbutt, Bob Ackrill, Sid Thomason, Chris Pusey, Malcolm Palfrey and a huge but very affable kid from Cheltenham called Struben also J/Gnr Durrant who bored me rigid with his bird impressions (I saw him years later on 'Blue Peter' doing the same act. If Shep had bit him, I wouldn't have blamed the hound).
Then there was J/Gnr Smith. Most people had no time for him but I didn't mind him as he was so inept and uncoordinated he made me look positively good. On leaving school J/Gnr Smith joined a circus and was happy until the day a horse kicked him in the face. On waking in hospital, he found that the circus and his front teeth had vanished. Eventually those in authority of the AAJLR decided that he had to go and go he did but not before conning some members of the platoon and company out of many pounds. He'd promised to pay them back at noon on the day he was leaving. By 12 o'clock that day he was well past Maccynleth on his way to Birmingham. And they said he was tuppence short of a shilling? The last time I saw Smith was on a 'World in Action' program about slum landlords in Nottingham, in the late 70's. He was surrounded by half a dozen kids, so he wasn't that uncoordinated after all.
One of the nicest people I met was Harry Thorne who was a leading light in the Regimental Small Bore shooting team. Two days before an important competition some berk doing a 'fix bayonets' dropped his rifle and nearly sliced poor Harry's trigger finger off (No it wasn't me). There were three members of the Intelligence Corps I remember very well, Alan Thompson whose father was the Pay Officer of 24 Signals at Catterick, Tom Britton, a lad destined to end up running MI5 and Tony Green who I often thought of in later years as the inspiration for 'Del boy' Trotter.
Desperate and unhappy as I often was, I was not as desperate as a lad from Birmingham called Bailey. He bought himself out, and then re-enlisted a couple of months later, just as I was going onto the Output. Within a week he'd literally tried to polish himself off by drinking a whole tin of Brasso. I was on fire piquet while he was in the cells groaning all night, 'Tanky' Wilson, the Provo Sergeant gave poor Bailey a tongue lashing that would have made a statue weep. I almost had an involuntary bowel movement and Wilson wasn't even talking to me.
There are a few happenings I remember with any clarity; the main one was the 'Cuban Missile Crisis' in the summer of 1962. This is now on the GCSE history syllabus and we thought we were going to war. Rumours abounded that we were going to be shipped off to the Woolwich Arsenal, or sent to the Scottish Highlands to form the basis of a guerrilla force in case Kruschev's Mongol hordes landed at Folkestone. I recall the Permanent Staff Sergeant's marksmanship competition. The 'trained assassins' from the Weapons Training Wing all had their noses shoved out of joint when the winner was the Signals Sergeant who ran the Globe Cinema. I remember the graduation days with the officers in their No1 dress (most of those regiments and their historic uniforms long consigned to the dustbin of military economics). I also remember the sheer bloody monotony of the RSM's practices. Everyone will recall the almost incessant rain in Tonfanau yet when I did the Adventure Training trek up Cader Idris it must have been the hottest day of the year. One of the boys, practically straight out of 'R' Company died in hospital in Aberystwyth from appendicitis and we were all given a traditional 'stiff upper lip' speech by the Company Commander, both the boy's and the Commander's names I have long forgotten.
As previously stated I was often subjected to 'military justice' (surely an oxymoron?). I have a first hand knowledge of the peevish military mentality of the 60's. Fair enough I deserved the jankers but was it absolutely necessary to send us out in the pouring rain to paint the gutters green, just because it was the 'GOC's' Inspection the next day? The old fart's staff car appeared at the main gate, the Quarter Guard 'presented' arms then he vanished into the Officer's Mess to reappear 4 hours later, 'tired and emotional'. What purpose, save to sharpen his obnoxity, did it serve when the 'Orderly Officer' ordered us to spend a whole evening sweeping out the drill sheds? We were then given 30 minutes to get back to our billets and change for final defaulter's parade. Having the furthest to run I was late, which earned me a further 14 days RP's. I hope that officer's mother eventually told him who his father really was. It was whilst on 'jankers' that I met the AWOL king of AAJLR, one J/Sig Lamb from Belfast. We developed a mutual indifference. The last time I saw Mr Lamb was in the NAAFI 'Harewood' Club in Catterick sometime in 1963. He ran the full length of the dance floor, jumped on a table and kicked a Fijian lad full in the face. The Polynesian took exception and chastised Lamb. I of course, being totally indifferent, made an excuse and left the premises and only just in time as the Redcaps appeared with batons drawn.
I've often thought that the AAJLR was a glorified boarding school, it would probably have been cheaper to send us all to Eton or Harrow. The memory of seeing huge lunking brutes who, within weeks, could have been enforcing the 'Pax Brittanica' with fixed bayonets, drinking those tiny bottles of 'school milk' still amuses me. It was in the Education Wing that I recall the most unfair episode of my time at Tonfanau. I eventually got to the stage of taking the full ACE. The maths teacher had a bee in his bonnet about 'logarithms' (whatever became of them?) and insisted we all turn up to take extra lessons, in our own time of course. I refused point blank and when eventually I took the ACE maths, much to my surprise I passed with a good mark. The Education Corps Officer was incensed and in front of a classroom full of my peers all but accused me of cheating. "I'll get to the bottom of this if its the last thing I do," he whined, "who was the invigilating officer?" When I replied, "you were sir," there were barely suppressed titters all round. I will not repeat what I said as he left but the second word was - "Off."
Finally a word about someone who was an unsung hero of Tonfanau. I refer of course to Lance Corporal Fagg. In those days when I thought the world was against me and I had surely plumbed the depths of human rottenness, that man proved me wrong. He was a rock in my stormy sea, a bulwark against the forces of optimism, I would go so far as to say Lance Corporal Fagg was a bastion, yes a true bastion. If he is still alive I only hope that God cherishes and keeps him - far away from me!!!

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